Ohio State's meeting Friday before the NCAA Committee on Infractions went relatively quickly -- just about four hours, which is lightning fast for a process that sometimes can drag on all day in a hotel conference room.
It's not surprising that the meeting finished rapidly, since the NCAA sent its case summary to the Buckeyes last month, and both sides agreed to most of the details. Athletic director Gene Smith said while reading from a statement that he expects final word on a punishment in eight to 12 weeks, at which time the school can put this whole thing behind it.
The situation is still not closed, because the NCAA isn't quite finished investigating. In a letter from the enforcement staff to the infractions committee dated July 13, it was revealed that one additional issue remained under inspection and that extra allegations "may form the partial basis for a failure to monitor [or] lack of institutional control" when combined with the original notice. That's the last thing Ohio State fans wanted to hear.
But it might not be all that serious. We don't know exactly what that additional issue is, but reporters such as the Cleveland Plain-Dealer's Doug Lesmerises have surmised that it involves another player who traded memorabilia for tattoos. Ohio State had included that fact in its response to the NCAA. It's hard to believe that having one more player involved will make that big a difference, and the fact that the NCAA still held the committee meeting Friday and didn't delay it is most likely a good sign.
The Buckeyes must hold their breaths that something more doesn't come out just in case, but unless the NCAA unearths some new allegations or other sources come forward, this case looks headed toward the adjudication phase.
Ohio State also announced it had added another penalty to itself, in addition to vacating last year's wins, placing itself on two years' probation and suspending several players. The Buckeyes will give back the $338,811 they earned from the Big Ten's Sugar Bowl payout. A lot of people criticized Ohio State for vacating the win over Arkansas but not giving back any money. This act shows contrition on the school's part, which is always something the NCAA wants to see.
Of course, Ohio State, with its coffers of cash, is a school that can afford such a refund, and the Big Ten still gets to keep its Sugar Bowl payout. But it's the gesture that counts, and this was a wise move by the Buckeyes to further humble themselves before the judge, jury and executioner that is the Committee on Infractions.
So now what? If Smith's suggested eight-to-12 week time frame holds, Ohio State could find out its NCAA fate anytime from right before the Nebraska game Oct. 7 to early November. While a postseason ban seems highly unlikely, NCAA officials did issue some tough talk about enforcing rules during the presidential retreat in Indianapolis earlier this week. Who knows whether the committee will decide to make an example of one of the sport's marquee programs to show that it is serious?
It's seems more likely that Ohio State will get off with its self-induced penalties and perhaps a minor scholarship reduction. That's assuming, of course, that the "additional issue" doesn't open a whole new can of worms, which is always possible as long as NCAA investigators have their eyes on your campus. For Buckeyes fans, players and coaches, they can only hope this long saga is nearing its completion.
Lastly, here are the official statements from Smith and school president Gordon Gee following the hearing:
“The university was pleased to present to the Committee on Infractions our perspectives on the two violations that were covered in our self-report on March 8, 2011. As expected, the committee had numerous relevant questions about the issues in the case, which I believe the institution answered thoroughly and thoughtfully. We also had the opportunity to summarize information detailed in the university’s response and the institution’s reasons for its self-imposed corrective and punitive actions. Consistent with vacating the 2011 Sugar Bowl, and in addition to our previously announced corrective and punitive actions, we also shared with the committee our decision to forfeit our share of the Big Ten’s payment for having played in that game ($338,811).
“Following this hearing, we will be working with the NCAA staff to move forward to wrap up our inquiry into any remaining issues. We are aware of a letter that the NCAA enforcement staff sent to the Committee on Infractions nearly a month ago detailing the status of this case. The NCAA staff concluded that the evidence at this time does not warrant additional allegations and that our joint review of any remaining items did not necessitate a delay to today’s hearing. We now look forward to working together so that we can conclude this follow-up work as quickly as possible.
“In closing, we appreciate the efforts of the committee and its staff in the work it has completed to date and look forward to the committee’s report in eight to 12 weeks."
“I appreciated the opportunity to appear today before the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions. The committee treated us fairly and gave us ample time to share our perspective. Throughout, we have been determined to do what is right in responding to the information we discovered. As we move forward, I am committed to ensuring that The Ohio State University is a model for other colleges and universities. Our institution expects nothing less.”